Biosphere Reserves are sites of terrestrial and marine ecosystems designated under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme, where people share a sustainable way of living with nature and innovative practices are tested in co-operation with local inhabitants with the aim of reconciling conservation of biodiversity with sustainable utilisation. The zone includes strictly protected areas at the core, which are typically surrounded by buffer zones where conservation is emphasised, but where people also live and work.
The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve covers approximately 360 000 ha and is located between the Pretoria and Johannesburg in the east and Rustenburg in the west, with approximately 262 000 people living within the designated area. In addition, the area is endowed with scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich cultural heritage value. It is also of high archaeological interest as it includes the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa World Heritage Site with 4 million years of history. The area contains rich floral biodiversity, a number of faunal species, and over 45% of the total bird species of Southern Africa.
The second newly designated Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve area covers an area of more than three million hectares and straddles the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. The area is globally unique as it is the only area in the world where three recognised biodiversity hotspots - the Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany hotspots - converge.
The entire biosphere domain falls within the Cape Floristic Kingdom which is the smallest, but one of the richest of the six floral kingdoms in the world, and the only one found entirely within the boundaries of one country. This Reserve is home to high levels of endemic plant species, threatened invertebrates and butterfly species. It provides a migratory route for large mammals and serves as a nursery for marine species. Due to its immense historical significance, the biosphere reserve includes three components of the internationally renowned Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site. (via environment.gov.za)
Existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are:
- Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998)
- Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2000)
- Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated 2001)
- Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, designated 2001)
- Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2007)
- Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated May 2009)